A Different POV

Moms, Please Stop Judging Me For Not Giving My Kids Screen Time

“It has become exhausting, feeling like I have to defend this household rule time and time again.”

Written by Michelle Rose
A mom plays with her kids.
Vera Livchak/Getty Images

One day, when my now-6-year-old was 3 and watching Daniel Tiger with a death grip on the remote, I observed him as he switched to a different episode two minutes later, only to switch to a completely different show one minute later, and yet another episode two minutes later. While he was feeding into his next dopamine fix, unable to control his impulses, I was reminded of my own childhood.

As someone who grew up with two working parents and the television as my babysitter, it dawned on me that I didn't want the same for my children. So, I thereby declared screen time banned during the week.

I'm what you might call a "cold turkey" kind of mom. When I set out to potty train my kids, I buckled up, took a deep breath, and knew the diapers were gone for good. When it was time to introduce a straw cup, I went straight from bottle to straw — no sippy cup in sight. Switching to a "big kid" bed? The crib was already on Craigslist.

While there may be an end to my somewhat linear way of parenting in the future, for now, this structure works for my 6, 5, and 2-year-old kids, especially when it comes to screen time.

You won't find our television running Monday through Friday (during the kids' waking hours, at least). In our household, screen time is only allowed on weekends, a rule rooted in my and my husband's desire for our children to experience delayed gratification, independence, and healthy brain growth.

Yes, I'm well aware of how much frustration I could be saving by allowing the kids to be on screens as I prep dinner or (heaven forbid) make a five-minute phone call to schedule a doctor's appointment, catch up with Mom, or tackle something on my to-do list.

Still, I prefer for them to get dirty playing outside — especially as my oldest is entering first grade, where there's a whole class dedicated to technology, and the time spent on tablets and laptops is increasing. (Rather than complaining about the tech-forward world we live in, my rule is now used to offset this schooltime screen exposure by foregoing it at home.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of digital media use per day for children 2 to 5 years old, with excessive amounts linked to adverse outcomes like "obesity, hyperactivity, delayed milestones and peer relationships, and conduct problems," says Dr. Catherine Pearlman, a licensed clinical social worker and the author of First Phone: A Child's Guide to Digital Responsibility, Safety, and Etiquette.

With heavy use, parents may also be more likely to notice symptoms of a screen-addicted child, including "delayed milestones, extreme difficulty stepping away from the screen, excessive tantrums, choosing screens over interacting with friends, inability to fall or stay asleep, and sneaking screen time during the night or other restricted time frames," says Dr. Pearlman.

I'm confident in our decision to ban screen time during the week, but that's not to say the reaction I get from other parents doesn't make me feel judged. If their wide-eyed, open-mouthed facial expressions didn't confirm their disapproving opinion of our family rule, their "But you're stripping your kids of their childhood!" or "Come on; let kids be kids!" comments do.

It has become exhausting, feeling like I have to defend this household rule time and time again.

Part of what makes parenting fun is that you get to create rules and boundaries for your own family, and I think we can agree that we're all just simply trying to do our best. Judging other parents doesn't do our children any good; I consider this when the tables are turned, and I come across parents who allow their children to consume a lot of screen time.

"There are many households with challenges such as a major disability, parent illness, single-parent households with many children, and other difficult dynamics where increased screen time may be warranted," says Pearlman.

I find myself often wondering why moms, in general, get so deeply triggered when they hear of another parent's choices that don't align with theirs. Perhaps it stems from the universal mom struggle that presents itself even before the baby is out of the womb: Do you plan on breastfeeding or formula feeding? Will you co-sleep or not? Is your baby doing purees or baby-led weaning? After all, if another mom is doing something different for her children than you are for yours, surely that means your way is wrong, right?

And sure, judging other moms may evoke a sense of superiority, a confirmation that you're doing something right. In the end, though, it can actually devastate your confidence and connections, with a judgment-prone attitude more likely to transfer over to your kids.

Being a mom is hard enough. Can't we all just offer each other more support and less judgment?

If you do wish to limit screen time in your home, especially if you have multiple children, Pearlman says that the key to not using screen time as a crutch when you're otherwise preoccupied is to be well-prepared.

"For example, if you don't want to use screen time while you're preparing dinner, then maybe you have various independent projects that are fun and engaging set up for your kids to do specifically during this time," she says. "Or, if the child doesn't want to work on the project, they can sit quietly and read or draw during that time," she says.

She concludes, "It's a lot easier to stick to your guns when you are well prepared, and if parents stay consistent with the no screen time rule during certain times of the day or week, children will stop asking for it."